Joan and Jack enjoy a steamy weekend on the Welshpool and Llanfair Railway and Rhiw Valley Light Railway news.
While the mountains of North Wales are more usually considered the hot location for aficionados of the Welsh narrow gauge, the valleys near Welshpool were the place to be for steamy action over the first weekend of September.
Joan last pulled a train in 1991 and her recent overhaul has included fitting a newly constructed boiler made by Israel Newton.
Returning her to service has taken a fair bit longer than had been expected, and even so it was a pretty close run thing – after initial post-overhaul trials Joan had worked just one revenue earning train prior to the gala. Although odd issues still arose over the weekend, these were resolved sufficiently for her to run well and look great.
The Welshpool & Llanfair Light Railway is a charming rural line with some stiff gradients to test locomotives and crews. It is fortunate to have the two original locomotives built for the railway, Beyer Peacock 0-6-0Ts Countess and The Earl, both of which were in action for the gala. The original carriages did not survive into preservation, obliging the WLLR to turn to Austria, Hungary and Sierra Leone for passenger stock.
While the ex-West African vehicles no longer figure high, in recent years a trio of replica Pickering carriages have been built enabling the line to produce a train as it once appeared in the rolling countryside between Raven Square on the edge of Welshpool and Llanfair Caereinion. Added steam for the gala weekend was provided by the diminutive Andrew Barclay 0-4-0T Dougal, which shuttled between Llanfair and Cyfronydd.
As has become usual, the WLLR’s gala was supplemented by steam road vehicles (lorries and cars) in the yard at Llanfair, occasionally setting forth for drives around the surrounding roads. Moreover, a significant show pitched at garden railway enthusiasts held at a school in Llanfair (with a free bus link to the 12in to 1ft railway) has become a traditional feature of the gala weekend.
Just a few miles south of the 2ft 6ins gauge Welshpool & Llanfair line is the private 15in gauge Rhiw Valley Light Railway. In the past this has been something of a hidden secret, which is fair enough when the main ‘yard’ is beside a private house and garden and the line runs through fields otherwise occupied by sheep.
The Rhiw Valley LR has held periodic open days in the past, but with the formation of a ‘Friends’ group keen to build support for the line and assist with plans for its development the opportunity was taken to open the railway to the public on September 3-4 to coincide with the WLLR gala. Unsurprisingly, enthusiasts took the offered opportunity to visit two railways in a single weekend.
Most of the weekend operations were handled by 0-4-0 Jack, a locomotive designed by Jack Woodroffe and Neil Simkin and built by Jack Woodroffe and TMA Engineering. The railway plans to build a new locomotive, a 15in gauge version of a Lynton & Barnstaple Manning Wardle 2-6-2T to be named Rhiw. Ambitious plans to extend the railway were also displayed.
The line leaves the terminus and enters a triangle which allows trains to proceed in either direction round an extensive circuit in either direction, or indeed, continue round the circuit without re-entering the terminus ‘station’ if desired.
The expansion plans envisage extending the main circuit at both its western and eastern ends. The extension at the western end will include bridging the River Rhiw to form a new balloon loop on the southern side of the river. The eastern extension will involve a new loop to expand the running line around the far side of a wooded area. The line could eventually expand to two miles in length. There are also plans to add a passing loop, turntable and a new carriage rake.
Welshpool is served by the national network, although utilising a much-rationalised station.
The original station building survives, now occupied by shops. When the W&L was built it ran through parts of the town, wending between buildings and across roads. The ‘town section’ is long-gone with much of it buried under subsequent developments, hence today’s preserved line operates from a new terminus at Raven Square on the opposite side of the town from the main line station. The Rhiw Valley LR is rather more remote from rail access and visits for open days require road transport to reach the line.